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It’s hardly the sexiest of topics, but if the number of people frantically hitting up Google in search of a hard skin remover is anything to go by, then hard, dry skin on the feet is way more common than you might have thought.
A standard ailment amongst regular runners, high heel lovers and pedicure-averters alike, most instances of hard skin won’t cause you any pain or discomfort. But if a surprise bout of sunshine or impromptu trip to the swimming pool requires you to peel back the socks and release your bare feet into the world, then you might regret not dealing with the issue a little sooner.
But your days of pedi-neglect are officially over. From the tell-tale signs to the most common types, the straightforward approach to hard skin removal on feet, to the best course of action to prevent a relapse, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to dealing with rough feet. Consider this your smooth feet cheat sheet.
How do you tell if you have hard skin on your feet?
There can often be a fine line between healthy skin with optimum thickness, and skin that has become excessively thick. In fact, it’s important to note that you do want thickness on your feet, or it would make simple acts like walking pretty uncomfortable.
To identify if your skin is on the overly thick side, look for areas that have become hardened and a little waxy in appearance. Hard skin will also be drier than other areas, so check for ashiness and skin that lacks the suppleness you’d expect from the skin on your face or thigh.
What are the causes of hard skin on feet?
There are numerous reasons why we develop hard skin on our feet.
Firstly, friction. Most dry, hard skin is the result of excessive and continuous pressure and friction between the feet and the surface below. In most cases, that means your shoes.
Keen runners might also notice a heightened level of dry skin, especially on the balls of the foot. It makes sense: as the feet pound against the pavement (and rub against your trainers), dry, hard skin accumulates in a bid to prevent blisters from forming and to protect the fresh and fragile skin underneath.
But friction isn’t the only thing that causes hard skin on the feet. In the colder months, icy temperatures tend to drain the moisture out of every inch of our skin. On the face, it usually appears as flakiness, but on the feet? You’ll probably notice a veil of ashiness and areas of thick, tough skin.
Then add a lack of regular pedicures into the mix. Whether you head into the salon, or prefer a DIY job, you’re more likely to pay attention to your feet in the summer months when sandals leave toes on show. But in the depths of winter, when feet are hidden below cashmere socks or fluffy slippers, we’re less inclined to treat our feet to the necessary TLC. Consequently, dry, hard skin can start to build up.
What are the different types of hard skin on feet?
If your hard skin is on the balls or soles of the feet, then you’ve most likely got a callus or two. Calluses are areas of skin that naturally become reinforced in order to prevent painful sores like blisters. That’s why they’re a key concern of runners or anyone who regularly wears poorly fitting shoes.
Then, there are corns. Identified by the NHS as small lumps of hard skin, corns tend to be smaller than calluses and are most often found on the toes – the little ones in particular! Wear high heels or tight, pinching shoes often? Then you’re at a higher risk of developing this type of hard skin.
How to remove hard skin on feet
Removing hard skin isn’t as tricky as it might seem. Just follow this simple step-by-step guide:
It’s a common misconception that it's best to soak feet before hard skin removal, but working with dry feet will enable you to properly identify the areas that need the most attention. Instead, wash feet and dry thoroughly before starting treatment.
A high quality foot file will always be the best hard skin remover. Use a high quality foot file to buff areas of thickened skin, ensuring each stroke follows the same direction. Avoid over-buffing by regularly pressing on the affected area with the fingertips. Does it feel tender to the touch? Then it’s probably time to stop.
Next, exfoliate the entire foot using a gentle scrub. Soak your feet in a bowl of warm water (or do this bit in the bath) and then carefully rub the grains over the entire foot to dislodge dry skin cells. Your regular body scrub will work well, or invest in a pedi-specific product like Mavala Smoothing Scrub Cream (£15.70).
Exfoliators and moisturisers work in tandem, so finish your routine with a generous helping of foot cream. Formulas that contain skin acids such as salicylic or glycolic acid (try CeraVe SA Renewing Foot Cream, £8.50) will continue to dissolve dead skin cells as they hydrate.
Repeat! Footcare shouldn’t be a one-off occurrence. The only way to keep hard skin at bay is to file and moisturise your feet on a weekly basis, so build it into your Sunday night routine. Yes, even in the winter.
The hard skin removers to avoid
While we all like to consider ourselves at-home beauty experts, some treatments are best left in the hands of the professionals. Case in point: any hard skin remover that involves a blade.
While scrapers and blades that shave away patches of hard skin are popular tools in any podiatrist clinic, they can be dangerous in untrained hands. Not only are you at risk of cutting the skin and causing injury, but left untreated, these wounds could develop infections.
Instead, stick to pharmacist or podiatrist approved foot files and pumice stones.
What’s the best foot mask for hard skin?
If you want to take your foot-facial routine up a notch, try a skin dissolving foot mask. Like a sheet mask in sock form, these treatments tend to contain a potent blend of powerful skin acids to dissolve and dislodge hard, dead skin cells.
Spend an hour and a half soaking in Skin Republic Foot Peel (£10), and while you won’t notice an immediate effect, don’t be disappointed. Within seven days, the alpha hydroxy acids will have done their job, and the hard skin will shed like a sheet of snakeskin. It’s a little unnerving, pretty gross but unbelievably satisfying. More a one-off treat than a regular solution, use masks like these no more than once every six months.
Hard skin on foot that hurts: when should you see a doctor?
Most instances of hard skin can be dealt with from the comfort of your own bathroom. But if your hard skin problem is particularly painful, or you’re concerned about how widespread the issue has become, seek the advice of your GP, or a certified podiatrist.
If the hard skin on your feet is itchy, it could be that your dry foot problem is connected to an underlying skin condition like psoriasis or dermatitis. If you’re worried, always speak to a professional to make sure you don’t end up causing more harm than good.
If you have diabetes, heart disease or circulation problems, the NHS warns against trying any kind of foot treatment yourself, as such conditions can make foot problems more serious. Be sure to visit your GP or a specialist foot doctor.
How to prevent hard skin on feet
As with anything, prevention is better than cure. So if you want to avoid future bouts of hard skin from occuring in the first place, there’s a few simple switches you can try.
First, think about your footwear. As many instances of hard, dry skin are caused by rubbing, ensuring your shoes fit properly will limit the pressure and friction they face. Leather and rubber tend to cause more friction, so insert a gel or fabric inner sole inside your shoes to minimise the issue. And opt for socks that are thick and cushioned.
Keeping the skin hydrated will also help. Apply a generous dollop of buttery foot cream before bed, and pop a pair of thick socks on over the top. This will aid absorption – and stop the cream rubbing off on your sheets.
Want to know the best foot cream for dry skin? Here’s our top three Living Beauty approved formulas: